The Dalai Lama with Aung Saan Suu Kyi in London on June 19 (Pic: Jeremy Russell for the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama—www.dalailama.com)
If China were a giant PC, its hard drive would heat up very rapidly while trying to process a private meeting between the Dalai Lama and Aung Saan Suu Kyi in London on June 19. Unless,of course, it is a PC using a state-of-the-art flash drive-based memory system in which case the processing would be calmer. (It is a labored metaphor but once formed I have to use it).
The point is in choosing to meet the Dalai Lama, or “a jackal in a monk’s clothing” as he is better known as in Beijing, the Burmese/Myanmarese leader displayed refreshing disregard for its obvious implications whenever she chooses to engage with China. And engage she will have to considering Beijing’s looming presence over her country’s future. She knows she is no longer just a dissident but a fast evolving political figure who has all the freedoms and restraints of a national politician having to balance conflicting priorities.
For China, strongly disapproving anyone of consequence from anywhere in the world who meets the Dalai Lama is part of its diplomatic reflex action. When it comes to the Dalai Lama everything China does or says is involuntary action. Notwithstanding that, Suu Kyi’s meeting with him is fraught with some real consequence for the recently freed leader as she goes about consolidating her and her National League for Democracy party’s position in Myanmar.
One can be sure that whenever she goes to Beijing or meets any Chinese of political influence, she will be directly or indirectly reminded of the meeting. It is a good thing that the 67-year-old Nobel Peace laureate has not built her reputation on the basis of expedient compromise. Nevertheless, she will discover that meeting the Dalai Lama is never without its attendant cost.
On the other hand, China also knows that if she rises to a position of her country’s leadership it will have to do business with her because Beijing does have strong economic and military/strategic interests in Myanmar. It cannot afford to remain permanently annoyed over one meeting between the one Beijing loves to hate and the one it would hate to hate.
Those who follow Myanmar closely say that its President Thein Sein is taking care to ensure that his country does not remain trapped in the Chinese orbit. He has to expand relations with other important countries in the region such as the obvious one in India but even the United States. He has to hedge his bets.
As for this meeting, there was just no way it could not have taken place. It had that powerful inevitability about it.